Saturday, June 14, 2014

Terminator: Terminator 2 Judgment Day second thoughts

Folks, let me explain about action movies. John Wayne is in them. They're kind of corny, there's oftentimes a great deal of noise and you get a few opportunities to feel that primitive masculine instinct surge for preposterous reasons. Sometimes things go kaboom. It's nice, light, cheap entertainment.


It started, I suppose, with that playground. That's a strike toward a basic idea that children aren't included in your war. A silly idea, I know, but I come from the most jingoistic tradition of war movies, where it's just as much about singing your way into Kathryn Grayson's heart or a musical number from ol' frozen-face to brighten the troops' day. The narrative of WWII is still the most basic modern good versus evil story everyone gets taught. Is it true? Oh good blazes no.

Where it really got going, of course, was when they brought back Reese. What a scene; I'm fresh off him being gone and suddenly he's back and imaginary. I actually started getting the water-eyes on that one. The movie went after fathers and abandonment, which as we all know is just my favorite subject ever and I just don't want to talk about it again right now, and then just because that particular heartstring hadn't been played raw like a good fiddle, the new father figure gets elevatored down into lava by the pseudo kind of family that came together over the course of the movie. It went after the actual father in the movie, Miles Dyson, presumably because he was interfering with logistics in the endgame. So, you know, thanks for all of those lovely feelings I will cuddle and cherish them.

Let's talk movie. John Connor's a snot. I hate that kid. He's made to do a lot of exposition in the slowest part of the movie, and even when he's not he's just a twerp. On a handful of occasions it works. When he's dealing with his mother it works. They clamped on that whole construct of paternal abandonment and we know how I feel about that which crowded out the chance to have more scenes regarding maternal abandonment, unintentional though it might have been. He gets to talk about growing up weird, but it's so casual that you can tell it doesn't register to him.

Miles Dyson is this great character to add in and personalize the quest to prevent the apocalypse. He's not evil, greedy, petty or venal. He's not stubborn or obsessed with his own ideals. He's got a vision of the future that has this great stuff to it - he wants to save lives and improve peoples' lot, and he's really passionate about it. And when he's told that his work will be the destruction of the world, he gets going with an escaped mental patient who shot him, her ten-year old brat and a killing machine with a heavy accent, determined to purge it all before it's too late. Their impatience gets him killed and yet his passion for people is so great that his last moments are rage against the knowledge that he nearly became the undoing of humanity and a dying certitude that he gave his life for the right reasons. I feel like this was a role written blank, and they happened to cast a black actor because he best fit the bill. If that's the case, do more of that.

Sarah Connor, still love her, She's got this whole thing going where she's become the monster. She tells off her son for human feelings; she nearly destroys their best ally out of fear and loathing; she would have taken human life if it weren't for the presence of the kid there. She's running on hate for that sickening place they jailed her in and an absolutely terrifying nightmare that plagues her every sleep. I don't blame her for becoming Dark Sarah Deluxe but she's a fountain of so many bad decisions that the Ghostbusters want to hire her. Why they kept her narrating stuff I don't even know; every time it happened (after the intro, anyway) I was pulled out of the movie and wondering why they didn't think I knew what she was saying.

I know you were all after it. I know it. I thought I had it, folks. I was so sure that I could practically taste the movie poster and the tagline: "The man who saved the future must protect his own past" or something like that. Skinny, hard-eyed, smart and determined, I was sure I had found Older John Connor just like I predicted. And then...

"Get down"

I don't even know, in hindsight, how I didn't think of the fact that they'd need a better or at least a different threat than the original Terminator was. I was so sure, though, that we were in for more of same from that huge presence bullrushing through everything like the tarrasque with a shotgun. Sir is a great character in this movie, an acharismatic and brisk violence dispenser who provides exposition while ignoring any human concern because that's his whole thing. The idea of making him learn just enough to be more effective at interacting with John was great and at the end, of course, everyone loved Sir. Even Sarah Connor gave him a respect handshake.

So that's the movie. Excellent characters plus a twerp, fantastic action scenes, a bogged-down middle that's boring and cuts away sharply from the main plot. Again I see the three-act structure in the movie, but that second act is basically no good at all. Still, it was a satisfying movie, hugely different from the original, but in a lot of ways incredibly superior. I think now that I know what's in store, it'll be a movie I am going to want to revisit. And that's all I have to talk about.


Wait, what was that?


Roomie? Is that you? That's a weird noise oh hey when did you get made of metal?



There's no way I wasn't going to talk about the T1000, aka the doppelgolem, aka I Guess Jeremy Was Completely Wrong, aka Swiss Army Man. Did you realize, for a moment when he was broken I honestly thought we had the win. I destressed. I should never destress until I see credits because when I begin to trust I am swiftly and brutally proven horribly wrong. The T1000 is an amazing villain, the perfect blend of physicality and special effects gone haywire to produce a molten metal menace. Alliteration is awesome. Anyway. This bland, skinny guy utterly dominates in every scene because there's nothing more to him than the immediacy of the threat he presents. The original Terminator felt delineated by his big physique and relentlessness, but the T1000 isn't about looks; he's about ways and means. He co-opts the image of authority and takes it over. He's an undetectable killer, hard to slow down and all but impossible to seriously injure. Guy was a floor, for Pete's sake. WHICH REMINDS ME, THANKS FOR THE EYE GUYS. Back to business: the most famous line from the first movie is spoken when the Terminator sees an obstruction that he finds will complicate his job. The T1000 doesn't believe in obstructions; he passes right through them, redirects headpunches into armgrabs, rebuilds his own head after a kaboom and puts himself right back in order after he freaking shatters into a thousand pieces. Everyone involved in playing the character does the same great physical acting that tells you this strange shapeshifting robot brain is in play. The original didn't have much of a thought process, but the guy who plays him for most of the movie shows every single thing the Persistent Puddle is thinking with the simplest of facial expressions. The computer effects show and aren't spectacular in and of themself, but they're just employed so perfectly that I was never distracted or questioning the character. I was just plain terrified that he'd be offing Sarah Connor as a show of how much better he was. The worst part of the movie is that long lull section where he's neither on screen nor in danger of popping up anytime soon. What a great monster to throw at a party.

That's a wrap, folks. I have a park to go visit, and you can bet Jurassic can no longer wait. :D


  1. Hi-
    Aside from "eyes (no, nothing with that, thank you so much)", is there anything we should no-joking avoid in the stuff we recommend? Because if 'bad emotional punch' is a thing, I'm gonna have to revise my list.

    1. I should be fine, I think, I just am going to take it hard when I see it. But look, Empire Strikes Back is quite possibly the best movie I've ever watched and you remember where that one took me. I like feeling that connection to what I'm experiencing. Usually. I appreciate the concern though. :D

  2. Jurassic Park is next? Huzzah!

  3. Strained relationships with and/or absent parents are a THING throughout literature, really, let alone pop or geek culture. I mean, Star Wars did it because it's the monomyth, but filmmakers in general will mine that well whenever they can. Even an otherwise balls-to-the-wall action/horror movie like .. uh ... spoiler redacted ... will have a kid in the mix to mess with your expectations, humanize the lead, and raise the stakes.

    I'm interested how you felt Sarah Conner stands up as a female character in both movies, given that you'd noticed failings in that regard in both The Princess Bride and I think Ghostbusters?

    1. She's a very central character in both movies and she gets the character development that Buttercup and Dana didn't. Even in the first movie where she's quite clearly a damsel in distress, she's 1) in the same boat as everyone else, there and 2) facing something she and everyone else from her time have zero context for. As everything in her life gets disassembled - best friend dead, mother dead, having to flee from everywhere she might be found by the 101 - she doesn't collapse into tears, she grits up and starts coming together into the character we're told (and then shown, in T2) she'll eventually be.

  4. So, one thing that's not obvious, and it's quite possible amuses only people who spend too much time over-thinking things, and I'm probably going to have to over explain it and kill the joke, but whatever.

    I took a course in college on literary analysis of fantasy and science fiction, and one of the pieces we looked at was Terminator.

    At one point in T2, I think in Dyson's house, Sarah Connor goes on a rant about how everything is horrible, and death, and you can't be a creative force, and I don't even remember any more. John cuts her off with "Mom, can we be a little more constructive?"

    Sarah's rant is basically the textbook example of the deconstructionist reading of Terminator. When I first saw the movie, I burst out laughing at that point, and everyone around me thought I was crazy. (Though, to be fair....)

    I just loved watching Cameron give a lot of critics the finger without breaking stride.

  5. I'm curious whether you'll like Jurassic Park. When it came out in 1993 the hype was ALL about the effects - no one had ever done anything like the CG dinosaurs before. But these days those effects are nothing special, so I don't know if the movie will really hold up. It does have good John Williams music, though.

    1. IMO, as someone who recently saw JP, the effects do hold up (or at least the CG does, the animatronics I'm not so sure but it might be because I'm really into feathered dinosaurs that was not the scientific consensus then). Spielberg is superb at maximizing the impact of effects.

  6. Can't wait till you watch Inception. Or Fight Club. To do those right, you'll need a "first viewing", "second viewing" and then analysis. :)

  7. "Tarrasque with a shotgun" reminded me of this: